Oct 22, 2023 - News

Hillsborough County middle school teacher stepping up for students with disabilities

Chinovia Shedrick in her classroom. Photo: Yacob Reyes/Axios

It's only fourth period, but Chinovia Shedrick is already halfway to her 10,000-step goal. She sits for no more than a minute at a time, pacing the classroom and fielding questions from sixth graders.

  • They're learning how to identify plot structure. Some are working on laptops. Others are writing on worksheets. One girl, struggling with an assignment, lets her headphones slip and massages her forehead.
  • Shedrick spots it from across the room and kneels beside her. "It's OK to be frustrated," she tells the girl. "But it's not OK to give up."

What's happening: Shedrick is an Exceptional Student Education (ESE) instructor at Hillsborough County's Memorial Middle School. She's spent over a dozen years in the district, but this semester is her first as a teacher.

Why it matters: Hillsborough County Public Schools (HCPS) serves tens of thousands of students with disabilities. This year, however, it's facing a shortage of teachers equipped to support them.

State of play: The school district is recruiting staff through the Supporting Teachers in ESE Prep (STEP) program, designed to help people with non-education bachelor's degrees become ESE teachers.

  • It includes training, mentoring and other services tailored to support those entering the classroom, Scott Richman, supervisor in professional learning for HCPS, tells Axios.

Flashback: Shedrick got involved in education in 2003 when her son began at Head Start. He wasn't speaking yet, and she wanted to ensure he got the help needed to succeed.

  • Before long, she became an ESE paraprofessional. Shedrick only had an associate's degree, and between working and raising three children, she didn't have the time to further her studies.
  • With the encouragement of her children and principal, she earned her bachelor's degree three years ago — and thanks to the STEP program, she's already teaching.

What they're saying: "Unfortunately for ESE students, so many people count them out," Shedrick tells Axios. "I don't believe that to be true. I believe every student can achieve their maximum potential if you equip them to."


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